Summary Minutes: Favoring Open Access for Minors
September 24, 1997
Explanation of procedures and overall process by Father Tom Shanks (TS)
TS asks how well the paragraph from the handout captures the key
question? How should minors be guided in their access to the Internet
in public libraries? Is that the key question or is the key question something
Asking the question in that way does not make any implication as to
whether the guiding should be done by the library, the parents, or some
other influencing organization. For this reason, the question asked is
I disagree. It leaves out the heart of the problem, which is the bounds
between the protection of children, and the rights of free speech. In
other words, how can the library best balance the compelling interests
of protecting children and protecting free speech?
I agree, but we must also make explicit who is responsible, or accountable,
for the guidance of children in their access to the Internet.
I am uncomfortable using the word "protect"with reference to the library.
I am not certain it is the library's job to protect my children.
I also wonder what we mean by the word "guidance."If we mean parental
guidance, we need to determine if that is reasonable in all cases.
On the other side of that is pushing the responsibility entirely to
the library, relieving parents of their responsibility for what happens
with their children and how their children are guided. The library cannot
narrowly employ restrictions, because some individuals will consequently
be treated wrongly. At the same time, the library must not act weakly
and accomplish very little; otherwise they might as well not act at all.
If parents are responsible for guidance in every other part of their
children's lives, why not this one?
I also do not like the word "guided"; it seems to propose someone standing
over the children doing everything for them, and this is not what the
children need. The issue is accessibility. What will the children be allowed
to access and are there going to be limits?
How practical is it to assume protection from parents, and, additionally,
how practical is it to expect protection from the library?
We should also consider the nature of our society and the changes that
are taking place. Moves to protect minors may be, in some sense, moves
to protect our own innocence about the depth of change in our own society.
Access in the library will become a side issue. We can take a narrow approach
and appear safe, but we should rather focus on teaching children necessary
moral and critical thinking skills to avoid bad influence from the increasingly
I am in favor of children learning how to use judgement as they access
information, and that kind of education is deliverable through the Internet
in the library.
TS asks participants to clarify what ages are included in the term
There should be different levels of protection for different ages of
children. It's absurd to think of a seventeen year old having access only
to the information allowed to a five year old.
Hard rules on ages are dangerous and arbitrary.
Are there tools for the parents to use in restricting their children
without imposing restrictions on anyone else?
That tool is already available. The parent standing there with the child.
And teaching them when they are not standing there how to think about,
evaluate, and process the information they find.
TS asks if it is reasonable to expect a parent to be in the library
at all times when a child could run into a pornographic image.
That's not what I said. Children should go out there capable of making
decisions for themselves.
Is there really a problem with kids accessing pornographic pages?
We have not had problems at Cupertino.
At the Los Altos library I have seen high school age kids accessing
pages they shouldn't be.
Kids, for time immemorial, have been accessing, and I can only go back
to my own life experience. There is nothing old about this problem. The
responsibility in my family was always assumed to be with the parents;
they never expected anything to go on outside the home. We cannot look
for solutions outside ourselves.
There is potential for this to be an inflammatory and divisive issue.
People are alarmed when asked if children should be allowed to find pornography
in the library. They do not like the idea of children twelve and younger
seeing pornographic images, but they are less concerned if a seventeen
year old is involved. So, the heart of the problem is in solving and reassuring
TS asks, "why do you favor open access?"
Because not to favor open access gets very close to censorship.
Once you start down the path of censorship, there is no way for our
society to know how or where to draw the line, and there should not be;
it is not a governmental responsibility.
No one wants to know who the information regulators are.
More dangerous than pornography is the possibility of finding out information
on how to construct weapons or grow drugs like angel dust.
The kids have access to the Internet at places other than the library,
such as friends' houses--they have access everywhere.
The library, like other places kids frequent, is not their for day care.
You cannot just stop everything.
Obscenity is not protected speech. If there is a way we can get rid
of it on the Internet, we can avoid the slippery slope problem, but we
cannot attack that kind of speech without hurting all kinds of other speech.
There is no way to block pornography without blocking all these other
things that are productive.
TS asks if everyone has seen the kinds of pornographic images that
have been bothering people.
Never. I guess it's because I don't go look for them, but at the same
time it is very difficult to access those images.
TS offers a binder full of the images and mentions the fact that many
people stumble upon the pages without looking very much.
I think people should look at the images because sometimes when I talk
to people I feel like they don't know what is out there.
TS asks if anyone present has had an opportunity to experiment with
(Tape turns here)
Even companies like Surfwatch use a subjective criteria for selecting
It is a First Amendment issue. I also look at it as a back and fron-
end issue. The back end is you teach your kids responsibility, you put
these things in context, so that when they go out there they don't get
blown away by this stuff. Instead of trying to deal with it out there,
deal with it back here.
TS asks about protecting the children who do not get the needed guidance
from responsible parents.
That's the problem with a free society. Sometimes it just does not work
for everybody, but that is the problem with a free society. That's the
TS explains that most people agree that the parents must have the
primary responsibility, but there is disagreement in determining how much
responsibility can and should be handed over to the library.
Both the city and the county libraries have been very clear about how
much responsibility they have, which is none.
TS asks, "do you agree with that?"
It's a problem. I understand what they are saying.
I think it's foolhardy to say that the library exercises no control.
The library, up to the point of the Internet, exercised control every
time they ordered a book and ordered a magazine; you cannot go in there
and look at Hustler.
I listened to the arguments Monday night, got somewhat alarmed, and
went to the Cupertino library last night. I sat down at the Internet as
a brand new user, and in fifteen minutes I stumbled my way onto a site
that someone had named. But when I went down to the children's section,
there were twelve terminals, only three of which had graphics that hook
up to the Internet, and all of those screens face the librarian's desk
and are in the middle of the room. To me that is the library exercising
discretion or practicality.
There are a lot of practical solutions that are reassuring which avoid
the problem of filtering.
At a certain point in the children's lives they leave the children's
section and go to the young adult section. You don't really see a lot
of children running around in the young adult section, this is not to
say that it cannot happen, but there is a certain amount of division at
A library can be proactive in terms of providing things to do that are
easy and fun for young kids, providing material that is interesting and
educational, not leaving the kids to browse.
TS asks, "what do you feel is at stake for you individually in this
As a professional website content developer, who is designing material
to sell merchandise and entertainment, I am trying to make sure I am providing
entertaining material that is of value and fun to children.
I think it is a matter of personal choice. I want to choose what I should
read, and I do not want my neighbors telling me or my kids what is appropriate.
For me it is a first amendment issue, pure and simple, and I do not
want anyone getting close to touching my rights. That's fundamentally
key and is the one thing we have in the U.S. that protects us.
The filters might distract me from doing research because of a word
typed that relates to a subject that is banned. I do not want to worry
about being prevented from using a site that may be perfectly innocent
or useful to my health or welfare.
The word filters are not enough; they have not figured out a way to
filter the graphic itself.
If the libraries implement filters on the computers to protect the children,
those filters will also effect me unless I ask the librarian to enter
a liberating code to take the filter off, and sometimes it is difficult
to get a hold of the librarian.
I have always regarded the library as an absolutely wondrous place,
and I would not like it to be degraded by this issue. I would rather see
reassurances that do not go as far as the filters and limitations.
As a citizen, I do not want to see the closing of the minds of America.
Because they are afraid of a small percentage of sights, it threatens
a lot of other things. It lets the tale wag the dog. My children are not
capable of protecting their First Amendment rights. It is my job to protect
their rights and the rights that their children may have in the future.
All of the ideas on the Internet should be allowed to have no more or
less room than any other ideas.
Barry Stenger (BJS)--questions from the floor.
A set of the questions have to do with the who and the how of limiting
access. Could you countenance the use of tools to be used to filter the
information allowed to other children, the children of the people who
do not agree with open access?
TS says the common ground is tax money.
BJS asks if it is known what the librarian's policies presently are.
Are we entering the area of pin numbers and bar codes?
If people would like their children to bring filters to the libraries,
that seems fine by me.
I would love to see a way for different groups of people to use the
library simultaneously, and one thing I have suggested is a button that
regulates access to the entire web or just the greenlight sights.
The identification codes allow the responsibility to remain with the
parent and the child, and not the library alone.
Is anyone opposed to the spending of tax money to implement that type
TS summarizes responses. It is fine for people personally to filter
the information allowed to their children as long as the restrictions
do not spill over without warrant into the lives of the other children
who otherwise are allowed open access.
The administration of that becomes a nightmare.
I do not think I am infringing upon anyone's rights in asking for the
Internet, a public institution, to remain completely open.
BJS--If one were to object that tax payers' money would be spent
on the solution, namely, the purchasing of filters and the like, one could
also object that tax payers' money is being spent for illegal material.
What illegal materials?
A certain part of the infrastructure of the Internet has federal government
funding behind it.
It's an integrated whole; a filter is not, the Internet is, and you
cannot just say I want to pay for eighty five percent of it.
TS asks how you answer the person who says, "I just want my child
to be protected from pornographic materials in the library."
The children also could be traumatized when walking to the bathroom,
accidentally glancing on the screen of someone else's computer. Why should
that have to happen in the public library?
In that particular case, who defines what pornographic materials are?
Who protects the children on the street--on the public anything? It's
public and if you don't like it don't go.
Use this as an opportunity to teach your children about what pornography
is and why it should be considered reprehensible. These are acts of exploitation
that should not be done to other people.
TS--The values that are at stake here are choice, freedom, responsibility,
The argument about incidentally seeing a pornographic image on a computer
screen while walking to the bathroom is bankrupt because the proposed
scenario is no more likely than a kid running into two children who have
pulled out a pornographic magazine.
The library provides the Internet but they cannot decide what sites
are called up.
BJS--Does the panel object to the child not being allowed into an
"R"rated movie or to purchase Playboy in a store without the company of
a parent. Is this censorship as well?
It's an erroneous argument. It sounds plausible but traffic, fire, prescription
drugs, all kinds of things are bad, but those things are not regulated
to the point that they have no exposure to them. You have to teach the
children to some extent, for their own safety, that they have to look
out for these things.
TS announces wish to switch the conversation. What is the library's
position as the panel understands it?
The library does not want to be considered a day care, an organization
obligated to look out for the children.
The library is not connected to the child protective services. It is
an institution that provides information. That's it--that's their job.
If the libraries assume control over the filtering of the Internet,
they must also assume all liability involving the use and effects of use
of the Internet. Law suits concerning the first amendment, but also law
suits concerning mistakes in the software will surely follow.
BJS--Should librarians become library police?
It's not their job.
The library is not around to help form the character and social education
of the child. I don't want the library to do that on my behalf.
TS--If a librarian saw a burning box and noticed a child who was
about to burn herself, we would expect the librarian to say something
and help prevent the child from being harmed. How is this different?
Burning is obviously harmful.
If a child walks by a screen and is exposed to a screen containing pornography,
what are they? Now tainted now for life? If they are, what are you as
a parent going to do about it? Are you going to bring him back and have
him cleansed. Everyone has a right to say what is good for their children,
and that is their right to do that. I feel there is much less harm from
accidental viewing than is commonly felt.
We have created some kind of a monster out of nothing. The same material,
equally as graphic, exists in the literature in the library. Who are we
The thing that worries me is that there are parents who are concerned
their children have been exposed to unfortunate things and the library
does not care. These two things together can cause irreparable damage
to our libraries.
The library has taken steps to ensure that the privacy of its patrons
is reserved, and I see this sensitivity extended to all of the library's
constituents. They are taking the common sense attitude automatically
expected of an institution organized to provide the public with free reign
over all available information..
TS--Are there a set of ethical standards common to the community
that require a person to warn a child looking at a pornographic image
of the potential for harm?
Even if there is, there is no way to apply the standard ethically to
the screening of the Internet.
I don't believe there is a community standard. What you are going to
do is impose the standard of either the most vocal minority or the most
affluent minority. It's going to be done in accordance with how loud you
scream and who has the most money.
It's also an instant law suit.
TS--The librarians say if they had unlimited space and money they
would put every legal information source on the shelves. Do you see any
problem with this?
No. That would be ideal.
BJS--The Internet goes beyond all of the law and makes everything,
legal or not, available to the interested.
I think it's nice for me to have the ability to go in there and choose
what I want to see.
TS--What does the other side want?
They don't want their kids to be harmed.
They think this is harmful and their children need to be protected.
Some of the people feel it is their responsibility to protect all children.
I perceive some of the people in this group as threatened by a change
in society that is impossible to check. I see them as searching for a
narrow enough focus to control in part what they cannot control entirely.
The other part of the group I see as having a very specific religious
mission, hoping to carry their cause to as many people as possible.
TS--What is the solution to this? Is filtering software the solution?
Bar codes are inevitable outgrowths. The people with the technology
will be selling it. Educating our children remains the thorny question.
We need to talk to our kids about the possibility for change in our society
and the responsibility that comes along with it.
I have never seen a technical solution to a management problem, and
this in a way is an attempt to apply a technical solution to a problem
involving people. These types of solutions fall apart and never work.
We do have to learn to live in an increasingly complex society. Imposing
rules will not help us deal with our changing society.
TS--What if you took graphic access off of all the children's computers?
You would have a big loss.
From a technical standpoint, it's becoming too difficult to navigate
websites based simply on words.
If you take the graphics away the words become more graphic.
The library ought to try the filters in the back room and let the library
do simultaneous testing.
Do filters take too much out or not? Who is right?
I don't want us to assume we as adults do not assume our information
needs are more important than that of the kids.
The library is doing enough. Educational presentations will help all
of the confused or fearful parents who do not know a thing about the library
come in and learn from the librarians. The libraries can offer public
Is there a danger in this approach that we'll ultimately want to apply
filters to everyone's access? We'll want to make the web as bland as television.
TS--What if the solution becomes filtering software on the computers
used by children? What will you do then? What will you do with your children?
I would continue to teach my children about what is in the world. It
doesn't stop, and the Internet is only one source of information coming
into their lives. The additional technology will be available to the parents
who remain concerned, and that is a perfectly acceptable solution. It
also leaves the library open.
TS--What is the common ground between the two sides?
Both sides care about the kids.
Both recognize the potential of the Internet.
Both want to anoint the value of parental responsibility.
It's important to continue to have a dialogue.
We both feel we are the majority of the public.
We both agree that pornography is undesirable material.
TS--Drawing the meeting to a close, announces that many of same questions
will be posed to the filtering software companies. There will be access
to the public report. The report will include information on the impact
of pornography on children, the implications of the supreme court decision,
library policies that are going with open access, library policies in
libraries with limited access, the history of how this issue has developed,
a whole variety of things that will be useful information for the CAC
and the JPA. We will also personally test the filters. Local librarians
will also be contacted for answers to the same questions.
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